Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Day the Music Died

October 9, 2011

This comes to us from Laura Kexel, an Orchestra teacher in Kent and was published originally in the League of Education Voters Blog, edCored, as “The day the music died.”  (  Laura has given her permission to reprint her thoughts here.

I am an itinerant orchestra teacher. I am currently assigned to eight elementary schools teaching sixth grade beginning orchestra. When I was hired in 2007, I was assigned to five elementary schools teaching fifth and sixth grade orchestra. Every year that I have taught in the Kent School District, not only have elementary band and orchestra been on the chopping block, but the district has threatened to cut all elementary music to save money. Last year, fifth graders lost the chance to start in band and orchestra. The district is desperate for money, and our children are suffering.

I have a Masters Degree in Teaching, yet I spend only three hours a day in contact with students. I make enough money on mileage checks to pay three car payments in a school year.

Besides having to fight every year just to keep music alive in elementary schools, we have suffered some pretty devastating cuts. The district owns hundreds of band and orchestra instruments but has cut the repair and maintenance budget to ZERO. Would you buy a house and then never mow the lawn, vacuum, paint, etc.? They have a set maintenance fee for students to rent those instruments – $80 – but if a student has free or reduced lunch, the fee is reduced down, often to a mere $20. This $20 buys two strings (almost) or 1/2 of a new bow or 1/3 of a new case or almost none of a repair when needed for normal wear and tear issues.

Itinerant band and orchestra teachers used to get an allotment to spend on new music. Unlike math or science, we don’t have a set of textbooks that the district purchases and adopts every five to 10 years. Our books are purchased by the students themselves, and music is our textbook. We have to share that music, and now that we only teach beginning orchestra and band, we can’t use a great deal of what we have because it is beyond the skill level of the students. Our allotment was reduced to ZERO last year and has stayed the same.  No new music, despite the changing needs of our students. Are we supposed to write the music ourselves?

Every school principal has warned against making too many copies. Again, I don’t have a textbook curriculum. Everything I do is from a photocopy. I don’t always have time at every school to make copies for just that school, so sometimes I have to make all the copies I need for the week in one place. I try to spread that around evenly, but I’m not always successful. My schedule doesn’t allow me to be. I sincerely hope that I make it to the end of the year without getting cut off.

There are many more ways that budget cuts affect us and our students, but I have to stop here before I let all this wash over me. I need to keep positive despite the tough road ahead, and I can’t do that when I dwell on all the bad news. The bottom line is that I teach whoever shows up in my class, whatever their needs. I spend my weekends calling parents to make sure every student has an instrument. I make extra trips on my own time to the district warehouse and music stores to get supplies. I do all of this because someone has to do it, and it is important. I want what is best for my students, and I will do what is necessary to make that happen.


Bargaining Update 8/18

August 24, 2011

Bargaining Team Goal: To strengthen the KEA contract                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        in the areas of working conditions, compensation and                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              benefits in order to improve teaching, and learning for                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            the students of the Kent School District.

Bargaining continued today. Your KEA Bargaining Team                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    presented a package that encapsulated the issues in the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           last bargaining update. The KSD team is reviewing the                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  proposals. The teams have agreed to reconvene on Tuesday,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                Aug. 23, for a marathon session with the hope of reaching                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        a tentative agreement.

Post your questions and comments for the KEA Bargaining                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Team on the KEA Blog.

General Membership Meeting
5-7 p.m. Aug. 30, 2011
Kentwood High School

Be there. Your vote matters.

KEA Bargaining Team
Connie Compton, KEA President
Cindy Prescott, 4th/5th grade, Crestwood, KEA Vice President
Michael Kerstetter, Music, Daniel, KEA Secretary Treasurer
Lisa Brackin-Johnson, Language Arts, Mattson
Brian Thornton, Social Studies, Meridian Middle
Emma Goliff, 1st/2nd grade, Panther Lake
Ron Nauer, Science, Meeker
Rose Racicot, Occupational Therapy/Assistive Technology
Sandra Goveia, KEA UniServ Representative

The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom

August 6, 2011

This just in from Cindy Prescott, KEA Vice President: 

“The person who sweeps the floor should choose the broom.” This is a quote I read recently from Howard Behar, President of Starbucks North America. I got to thinking about this quote and how it applies to the Kent School District and to us, as educators.

Brooms have parts and they can all be researched to find the best the industry can offer. The bristles can be made from various synthetic or natural materials. What binds the bristles together likewise can be made from different materials. Bristles might be bound in differing ways, such as in a slant. The research on these materials might show different results in performance and longevity.

The handle itself can be fashioned in many ways and thus the handle would show various results in performance and longevity. The overall design of the broom might also be a source of research results, as we like or dislike the very looks of things that we buy to use in our homes.

Like brooms, instructional programs and initiatives are made of various “materials”. Research on these programs and curricula provides various results on performance, which might include longevity and overall appeal.

Consider then, a sweeper who is given a “broom” (program) that has been highly researched by those at the top. The “broom” might have bristles that last quite a bit longer than other bristles. It might have a handle that purports to be the best in the industry. Perhaps the overall look of the “broom” is pleasing to those choosing it.  In fact, the “broom” is chosen with the intention and desire for the best fit for the sweeper.

However, the broom chosen may not be the best fit for the sweeper. Perhaps the sweeper understands that the floor being swept is uneven and needs a particular kind of slant or bristle. Perhaps the handle is too long for that particular sweeper.

This is the problem with being given a “broom” when we are the actual sweepers. Those of us sweeping have additional information that cannot be easily known by those choosing brooms because they are not involved in the actual sweeping. Without our input, the wrong “broom” might be chosen.

Complicating matters, when the wrong “broom” is chosen by others, those choosing sometimes have difficulty hearing that they have chosen the wrong broom. After our report on the broom, we sweepers are sometimes told to continue using the wrong broom anyway. In fact, we are sometimes told to use the wrong broom to sweep a bigger room. And to leave no particle behind!

Collaboration is not just a word. It is an action that includes hearing and taking into account the knowledge the sweeper has when choosing a broom. If the sweepers in our district were part of the process in choosing brooms, I can only believe we would see great results.


Cindy Prescott
KEA Vice President

KEA Bargaining Update June 2011

June 23, 2011

Please note:  This bargaining update is reprinted here for the purpose of your response.  Questions, comments, suggestions, complaints and/or kudos are all welcome and will be answered, if that is called for, by bargaining team members as soon as possible.  This will be an ongoing feature during bargaining and please feel free to make use of the interactive component of this media.

Bargaining Team Goal:  To strengthen the KEA contract in the areas of working conditions, compensation, and benefits to improve teaching, and learning for the students of the Kent School District.

Bargaining continues! Your KEA Bargaining Team has met with the KSD district team four times this spring. The next joint meetings with the district are scheduled for all day June 24th and June 28th. We will continue to meet throughout the summer.

Between meetings with the district, KEA’s team meets to strategize and develop proposals. KEA’s focus is on improving learning conditions for our students, time (late start days, calendar, meetings) and teacher rights. Our proposals are based upon your input from listening sessions over the past two years, and member concerns.

Teams have stated interests and begun exchanging proposals addressing workload, teacher rights, and Learning Collaboration Time. At this point, no tentative agreements have been reached between the district and your association.

The current contract expires on August 31, 2011. 

Stay informed this summer.

Regular Bargaining Updates will be sent via home email and will be posted on the KEA Blog where you can also post your questions and comments.

Be sure to give your input when asked.

General Membership Meeting

August 30, 2011, 5-7 p.m.

Kentwood High School.

KEA Bargaining Team

Lisa Brackin-Johnson, KEA President

Connie Compton, Special Ed., Jenkins Creek

Cindy Prescott, 4th/5th grade, Crestwood

Michael Kerstetter, General Music, Daniel

Brian Thornton, Social Studies, Meridian Middle

Emma Goliff, 1st grade, Panther Lake

Ron Nauer, Science, Meeker

Rose Racicot, Occupational Therapy / Assistive Technology

Sandra Goveia, KEA Uniserv Representative

A History Lesson…

March 9, 2011

That previous post reminded me that as union members or just as citizens of this country, we need to remember what the struggle was all about in the first place.  As a student of history, I know that the history of our nation was shaped by the labor struggles that workers engaged in and that no discussion of the U.S. would be complete without including certain critical incidents which shaped public consciousness and put the labor movement into focus for us.  The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire was a tragedy that killed 146 people, mostly immigrant women in NY City on March 25, 1911 (the 100 year anniversary of this horrible event is coming in a few days).  Women working in the garment industry were unable to escape a fire that spread through the 8th, 9th and 10th floors of the Asch Building because elevators stopped working and the fire exits had been locked by management to prevent thefts (the owner who had accomplished this deed was fined $20.00 for his transgression while receiving $60,000.00 insurance compensation for his “losses”).  There was a resultant outcry over the image of women leaping to their deaths from factory windows which enabled the garment industry workers to stand together and protect themselves by organizing and unionizing.  A union advocate at the time said, “I know from my experience it is up to the working people to save themselves. The only way they can save themselves is by a strong working-class movement.”

In the extractive industries of mining and logging there were many incidents that set up struggles between workers and owners.  In almost all cases, owners were supported by law enforcement, while workers had only the determination that they had suffered enough to want to stand up against the sure violence that was coming their way.  All over the country, labor uprisings gave voice to the people who did all the hard jobs and that voice was demanding rights.  Rights to decent wages, job safety, decent hours all were fought for and won.  Workers discovered that through their collective voice and their collective action that they could ask for and receive these conditions; they could have a say in their own employment.

For the past 50 years, there has been a backlash movement afoot; one that has been funded by corporate dollars and that has at its heart the elimination of the rights of workers that have been won over time.  We are now seeing the contemporary version of that movement.  With the vilification of public workers (BAD teachers, BAD firemen, BAD police, BAD state workers) and the controlled rhetoric (after the purchase of virtually ALL domestic media sources) that says anything public is bad, including public schools, and with the nonsense that is going on in Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, New Jersey (et al), and yes, right here in our own state of Washington, we are seeing the next battle.  We had better be ready to defend our lives and our livelihoods.  Those of you who believe “it can’t happen here,” aren’t paying attention; it already IS happening here.  The question now is, what are you going to do about it?

Union Rights are Human Rights

March 8, 2011

 This was sent to me by a teacher/proud union member who was in Olympia last week at a rally specifically to support Wisconsin public union workers and to support unions and the right to belong to a union in general. 

It was an amazing and inspiring experience to stand at the capitol building in Olympia a week ago with workers from many different unions. There were firefighters, police officers, teachers, health care workers, pipefitters, and many others. We were all of like mind – our unions level the playing field. Without that leverage, our workload, our compensation and the time we spend working would all increase. These rights have been hard fought in the history of labor unions. These rights have been won through perseverance, through belief and commitment.

It has been demoralizing, at the very least, to become the scapegoat for all the ills of society in these past few years. It’s hard to believe it is teachers receiving such anger! All of a sudden, while standing with my union sisters and brothers, I felt that demoralizing cloud lift. Standing up for our rights – that’s what lifts that feeling of immobilization, of hopelessness, of sadness. Standing up for our rights – that’s what inspires me to go on working for what I know is right.

We felt it during the strike here in Kent: That feeling of being a team, of working together for something we knew was good. Standing together gives us the leverage we need to work for better conditions, for ourselves and our students. We still have much ground to make up. For many years in our district, there has been decision making without the teacher input that is needed for a workload that is reasonable, for the time needed to perform our tasks adequately and collaborate with each other, and for compensation that is respectful and competitive with other surrounding districts.

We need the human right to stand together in strength and hope; to stand together with strong belief that we are for children and their futures. We need the human right to stand together because our students need educators who negotiate contracts with them in mind.

Another Arbitration Win

January 3, 2011

In addition to the arbitration mentioned previously (see Caseload Arbitration, Dec. 6), KEA also prevailed in another arbitration hearing, this one over when KEA Reps could hold meetings in their respective buildings.  KSD, under the watchful eye of Larry Miner, past HR Director, asserted that such meetings could not be held during the work day, including the thirty minutes before and after the school day.  KEA felt that the contract language was clear when it stated, “Representatives duly authorized by the Association shall be permitted to transact official Association business on school property at all reasonable times, provided that this shall not interfere with or interrupt normal school operations.”  (Article III; Section 2)  KEA filed a grievance which was denied by the district and then took the next step of advancing the matter to arbitration.

After hearing evidence from both sides, the arbitrator sustained the grievance and ordered the district to:

  1.  Provide written notice to KEA, withdrawing the demand for approval of meetings at the assistant superintendent level.
  2. Notify building principals and supervisory personnel that KEA is entitled to hold union meetings at all reasonable times that do not interfere with or interrupt normal school operations, including the periods before and after the student day.
  3. Notify building principals and supervisory personnel that while their approval is not necessary for the union to hold a meeting, they are entitled to notice a least one full school day in advance and may suggest a more appropriate time if they believe the meeting would interrupt normal school operations.

The district had tried to assert that their actions were consistent with the WAC (Washington Administrative Code, or state law) which controlled what has been referred to for years as “WAC time.”  Sadly for the district, the legislature repealed that aspect of the WAC in 2006, as the district should have known.  This decision clearly affirms the contract language that union meetings may be held during the thirty minutes before and after the student day (or at any other time, provided there is no interference with normal school operations).  In addition, there is no requirement that KEA inform building administrators of the content of these meetings, nor may the administrator refuse to allow a meeting.

The district did not agree with the decision and asked the arbitrator for reconsideration. The arbitrator declined reconsideration and the decision stands reaffirming KEA’s right.

Caseload Arbitration

December 6, 2010

You may not be aware of it, but we (KEA, aka, YOU), have taken several grievances that we could not solve at either the building or the superintendant level, to arbitration.  This means that we have gone before a professional arbitrator, usually a judge, and presented the case at length for that independant arbitrator to decide.  This is a lengthy process, requiring an incredible amount of documentation, witnesses for both sides and lawyers being lawyers.  The results?  So far, we are 5 and 0, meaning we have prevailed in our arguments ALL FIVE TIMES.  There are another couple of arbitrations that are in various states of argument, but we are continuing to work through these and we will let you know here about the outcomes as they come in.  We have a description below of one of those that deals with Caseload language in the contract.  Enjoy, and remember, we invite your comments on the topics presented or on any other thing that you feel needs to be discussed.

Caseload Language: Where Are We Now?

A significant piece of the 2009 bargain was the establishment of caseload language for all special education teachers and most ESAs. This was hard fought language settled in the last hours of the negotiation. Teams met and clarified the intent of the language and many proposals went back and forth to fine tune the wording.

The 2009 school year started with high hopes of providing a better learning environment for special education students, but by early October KEA leadership began hearing of a wide range of situations that violated the new language. Initial conversations with the district resulted in no changes and the violations multiplied. Some teachers still had no para time, some half time teachers had caseloads higher than many full time teachers, some full time teachers had caseloads far above the contract allowance, and while the caseloads grew and grew, fewer overload relief hours were allocated. A grievance was filed and after long meetings the district chose to deny the grievance. The KEA Executive Board and Grievance Committee then decided to pursue the issue through arbitration. Unfortunately, arbitration is not a quick process. The arbitrator heard the case in mid-October. WEA Advocacy and Grievance Specialists Mike Boyer and Mike McNett worked together to present the bargaining history and range of violations to establish KEA’s position. Final briefs have now been submitted and we (KEA leadership and members), as well as the special education students in Kent, are now waiting for the decision of the arbitrator.

Editorial Comment:

Regardless of the decision of the arbitrator, the final decision really lies in the hands of the Kent School District. Every day across the Kent school district teachers are pressed to accelerate learning of high-risk learners. Kent was already far behind many other districts across our region, state and country in establishing language that provides appropriate learning environments for special needs students. This fall many special ed. teachers have found their caseloads again increased by adding general ed. and ELL students to their instructional groups, but not counted as part of their caseload. Many special ed. students now receive “specially designed instruction” in groups of 15, 20 or even 25 students. All the while, the district Special Education Pathways document states that appropriate delivery model for special education is either small group instruction or one to one instruction. It is time for the Kent School District to fulfill its responsibility to our high needs learners. It is time for the district to provide appropriate staffing that will support teachers and ESAs in meeting the needs of all of our students.

A Response to “Teachers and teachers unions: Get on board or get out of the way”

August 16, 2010

Earlier this month, the Seattle Times published a column by Leonard Pitts, called “Teachers and teachers unions: Get on board or get out of the way.”  Mr. Pitts praised the mass firings of teachers in Washington, D.C. and Rhode Island, and blamed teacher unions for not embracing “accountability” based on high-stakes student test scores.  KEA Vice President Connie Compton posted the following response:

Mr. Pitts,

First, please review teacher contracts (they are easily found on either association websites or the human resources section of school district websites). Almost every contract has a process for dismissal of “bad” teachers. If teachers who cannot do the job remain in the classroom, it is because administrators are not doing their jobs. Most teachers do not want to work with ineffective teachers as it impacts our work as well. Union leaders often help to counsel ineffective teachers out of the profession. Unions assure there is Just Cause and that Due Process Rights are followed. Research shows that states with unions have higher test scores than states without unions.

Second, when you look at those contracts, look at the new evaluation systems for teachers that have been implemented in the past several years. For example, in Kent, the “Certificated Evaluation Model” is two thirds of the contract with very detailed rubrics expecting a high level of performance in multiple facets of the profession. The problem with the evaluation system used in Washington DC (and that being proposed in Seattle) is the heavy reliance on test scores. When our children are infants, we accept that they take their first steps and say their first words at different ages because not all children develop the same. Test scores expect that all children do develop the same. As a special education teacher, I know all too well the differences and challenges many students face. From Traumatic Brain Injury to genetic conditions, many, many factors impact student growth. Yet these children are assessed on the same tests as their grade level peers and expected to make the same growth or a school may be labeled as failing. Additionally, English Language Learners are expected to be in the same place after just one year in our country. For several years my school had a significant population of students who came from a nomadic tribe without a written language and no formal schooling. Many of these students also experienced malnutrition and malaria during infancy, both of which can impact brain development. No matter what grade students entered the school system; one year later they were expected to be reading and writing in English at same level as their age peers. No Child Left Behind and Rhee’s teacher evaluation model do not allow for these challenges in the classroom.

Furthermore, test scores do not allow for external factors. Can Rhee assure that every teacher fired in DC had equal access to quality, research-based curriculum and materials that meet the needs of each unique learner in the classroom? Did each of those teachers have the support of counselors to help meet the needs of children with behavior challenges? Did all of those children come to school every day? I had 4 different students last year who each missed over 30 days of school – equal to 6 weeks of classroom time! Did all of those children have someone at home who read to them as toddlers and preschoolers and now makes sure their homework gets done? Did each of those children have quality medical care? I had a student who failed the school vision and hearing screenings, but his parents refused to take him to the doctor even when offered free services. Then there are the life events that teachers have no control over. One year I worked with a student who had a back injury and missed multiple days of school and when she did come to school she was in almost constant pain. Have you ever tried to read a book when you hurt? This year I taught a brother and sister whose father left, then their mother lost her job, then her house and finally they sold many of their personal belongings, even their pet dogs. Many days the children came to school in tears and consumed with stress. Should their test scores determine my pay or whether or not I have a job?

I am not against accountability, but accountability is a very complicated issue and cannot be judged on a single test score. Additionally, overuse of test scores has inherent issues. Campbell’s Law states, “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

Finally, I urge you to read “The Death and Life of the Great American School System” by Diane Ravitch. Ms. Ravitch clearly explains the problems and fallacies of No Child Left Behind and the various new directions public education has taken.

KEA Challenges Layoffs

July 22, 2010

The Kent Education Association has filed a grievance, asserting that the layoff of teachers and counselors was unnecessary and that it violated the contract between the union and the district. The contract allows the district to conduct a layoff only “by reason of financial necessity” (Article VII, Section 8.A.). The contract also states that the district is to minimize layoffs by reducing the General Fund balance, and through reductions in expenditures, and that they are not to reduce the levels of teachers beyond that which is necessary to remain within anticipated revenues.

The district is expected to end the 2009-10 school year with a General Fund balance of almost $22 million dollars, which is 8.3% of their total budget of $261.6M. The initial layoff in May included 24 KEA members, which would have created a savings of just $1.1M. The bulk of these educators have now been recalled, leaving just 6 people on layoff status from this year. Of these, some were only partially reduced, and the total remaining positions from the 2010 layoff is 4.6 FTE.

The teachers and counselors remaining on layoff could be restored to full employment for $299,000. That amount, less than one-third of a million dollars, is just 0.11% of the total district budget, and is only $59,000 more than Dr. Vargas’ annual compensation. Even so, the district is content to leave these people out in the cold, while the administration continues to sit on a huge rainy day fund. The district has not yet responded to KEA’s grievance.

Additionally, 4.4 FTE remain on layoff status from the 2009 layoffs. A grievance challenging that layoff is still going through the process, and a formal hearing will decide the matter this winter. One of the teachers who was laid off in 2009 was partially recalled to a 0.8 FTE position that June. Even though new teachers were soon hired in her subject area, the district “forgot” to first restore her to a full-time position. KEA recently became aware of that situation and was successful in having her placed in a full-time job for next year, and insisted that the district agree to pay her several thousand dollars in compensation for the salary and benefits she had wrongly been denied.

KEA believes that the district should stop making claims of a financial crisis when none exists. The Association believes that the administration should stop disrupting services to students through needless layoffs and the resulting transfers. Instead, the district should use the money entrusted to them by the taxpayers to invest in the education of the children of our community.